A Dance of Cloaks

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish, Shadow Dance #1

Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. Marshalling the thieves’ guilds under his control, he declares war against the Trifect, an allegiance of wealthy and powerful nobles.

Aaron Felhorn has been groomed since birth to be Thren’s heir. Sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.

Guilds twist and turn, trading allegiances for survival. The Trifect weakens, its reputation broken, its money dwindling. The players take sides as the war nears its end, and Thren puts in motion a plan to execute hundreds.

Only Aaron can stop the massacre and protect those he loves…

Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences.

A while back I was browsing through my Goodreads recommendations and I came across the books of David Dalglish, based on my preferences to other thieving and assassin books. Reading a bit further with the blurb I got excited about all that this book might have in store for me. Who doesn't like a good assassin story! David Dalglish has self-published the Shadowdance series and it has gotten very positive reviews and one of the leading publishers in SF/F, Orbit, has taken this series in their publishing schedules, so far all three books have been re-editioned and a fourth one is in the planning for March 2014!

The first thing that falls to note in A Dance of Cloaks is the pacing and the eagerness of David Dalglish to tell his story. The pacing of the story in fast and managed to take me in after only a few pages. The eagerness is shown by how many idea's and specifically points-of-views that you are introduced to. Now in some stories this can quite derail a story, but for A Dance of Cloaks this is hardly the case, David Dalglish has done a great way of writing this all in a manner that makes everything clear for the reader. Taking his time in showing how and why things work in his world and not making massive jumps from point-of-view to point-of-view, but making the transitions almost seem natural. This made the whole story readily engaging and a true pleasure to read.

In essence the storyline mainly revolves around the idea of the thieves' guilds and the Trifect. The thieves will talk for themselves, the Trifect are a set of people that can be most easily compared as the superrich, living the easy life and controlling everything that goes on about in trade routes etc. The Trifect has no worries about anything... but this is about to change as one thief in particular, Thren, will make them pay and make sure that he will get in control of everything. Some might say well this sounds a bit standard and just like and average assassins/thieving story. Well let me just say upfront that you will be in for a surprise. Like I mentioned above, there are many perspectives that you follow and this is one point where A Dance of Cloaks draws a definite plus from. Because it is not only the story of Thren that you see as he seeks to gain control, you get perspectives of the other involved parties as well and these add a lot of depth to the whole story and to top it off in another perspective that is shown by Aaron, Thren's son, David Dalglish explores some other themes as well, besides showing a lot of how everything goes about.

The first perspective is shown by Thren, the guildmaster of the Spider Guild, one of the many thieving guilds. Thren is a man to be feared, he has a reputation that will leave you in awe and he is also the one who is key to uniting all the different guilds. The thing that I enjoyed reading in A Dance of Cloaks was mainly his part, because what you can make up from the synopsis of the story is that it also revolves around Aaron. But by involving Thren in his story David Dalglish steered away from the typical child progidy type of story and gives a clear insight in all that happens in the Spider Guild and more. But coming back to Thren, he is a scared and for me somewhat troubled man as well, everything has to go by his rules and his rule is an ultimate. The actions he undertakes are only for the better of him and if he encounters troubles along the way he easily draws his sword to deal with them. He is skilled in most that he does, from planning down to execution. A unique aspect does surfaces mainly by Aaron, his youngest son. Which brings me to the second perspective. Aaron is a young boy, only 8 when you get to meet him for the first time and you directly see the pressure that is being exerted on him by Thren. This is definitely not your average healthy father-son relation. Thren is shaping Aaron to become his heir and by this he spares no account what so ever. Aaron does take this in as something that has to be done, like it is just normal, but once you get a bit further and the story skips five years to the future something interesting happens. With Aaron now being thirteen he starts to develop his own opinion more and more and starts to see things quite differently. By this his relation starts to clash. And yes, I do have to say that Aaron’s story is a bit growing up of a child prodigy but this is with a twist, because it goes far against the original plans of Thren. This part really surprised me, I liked how David Dalglish managed to set up the story to highlight this bit. Aaron goes his own way this takes a heavy account on his father and also comes to show that family might not be all a good times. There are a lot of interesting twists and turn regarding the relation between Thren and Aaron and the ending of the story promises for some good stories to come.

Two other perspectives come from completely different sides, from the Trifect and other involved parties that stand opposite Thren. This was another part that nicely showed how well David Dalglish had thought his story through. When you deal with a story that lies heavily on betrayals, assassinations and all else that comes looking around the corner, showing different perspective with each side plotting against the other greatly broadens the storyline. Like I mentioned above, it could have proven to be quite chaotic and hectic but this wasn’t the case because it’s all logical put together and follow up on each other nicely. By this you really come to see how each party things about the other and this will prove to be quite eventful for the second book.

The part where A Dance of Cloaks, really excels is action. They are downright awesome (!). I have come across quite a few S&S books that show great battles scenes and I am happy to add A Dance of Cloaks to this list. The battle scenes, one on one fights, are show in utter detail and are dark gritty and gruesome. David Dalglish doesn’t spare you one detail of how bloody a one on one fight can be. But the action you see isn’t only fought out with swords, dagger and other nasty gadgets. There is a second element added to the mix. Magic. Though it remains quite obscure as to what is exactly is, how you use it and what you can do with it. Several key characters and others that you encounter do have gifts of turning into mist or manipulating fire and much much more. Even though it remain obscure and the rules unclear it did inspire with a high coolness factor especially with the faceless ones and the dark paladins. How cool was that! Adding these things to the storyline greatly lifted it into a new direction and for me has set the mood just straight.

Above I already mentioned some of the idea’s that David Dalglish introduces to his story. From the faceless to the dark paladins and the believers in either Karak or Ashhur, the good and the bad? Several character do have more supernatural and special abilities and I have browsed the internet and it seems that several believes like Karak and Ashhur have references to David Dalglish’s other works as well. But for A Dance of Cloaks this does add a lot of extra depth to the story and shows everything with a lot more color. And even though you are constantly challenged with new idea’s everything is introduced to you in a coherent manner and doesn’t feel like an information dump at all. Once you are into the story, you are in till the finish of it.

A Dance of Cloaks is a violent dark and gritty story. But this is just what you may come to expect for a story focusing on a master assassins and taking over other factions. You do come to see more and more dark fantasy stories and for me this really hits the right mark. Especially if you look at all that David Dalglish involes in his story telling, for me what really made the story where the perspectives and how by each of them you see different themes being discussed. In Thren’s storyline it goes about power and taking control but with his younger son Aaron, the story takes a turn into a whole other direction with tackling family issues as well. This really gave a solid well rounded story. This does make the storyline quite interesting, it isn’t only child prodigy stuff, with Thren you see how everything is turning out for the worse for him. The action in A Dance of Cloaks is just non-stop you are literally thrown from one battle into the other, and not one of them is the same as the one before. In describing his fighting scenes David Dalglish introduces a lot of different idea’s, bit like types of classes with each having certain supernatural powers, really inspiring a high cool factor into his story. Downright action and intrigue a plenty, A Dance of Cloaks is a must read for every fantasy fanatic.

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